'Absolutely beautiful' new piano donated to Austin Public Schools

·3 min read

May 28—AUSTIN — Austin High School choir teacher Kalle Akkerman is thrilled with his new instrument.

Well, the instrument, a Fazioli F308 Concert Grand Piano, belongs to the school district, thanks to a generous donation from the Austin Symphony Orchestra. But Akkerman can't wait to have the 10-foot grand piano backing up his singers and thrilling music lovers with its full, rich sound.

"We'll use it for all of our concerts," he said. "We're working on getting a regular concert series."

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On Wednesday, the Austin Symphony Orchestra signed over the piano, which the symphony has owned since September when the organization bought the Fazioli for $100,000 from a private owner in Bellingham, Wash.

Jim Herrick, vice president of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, said the piano is one of only 40 of this model in the world, and one of seven in the United States.

The symphony, which used Austin High School's nearly 2,000-seat auditorium as its performance space, made the decision to get a new piano in 2018 after renowned pianist Roberto Plano told the symphony board that their current instrument, a Baldwin Touring Grand from the 1960s — also donated to the school district from the symphony — was insufficient to attract top talent to Austin for concerts.

"He told us you can never expect a concert pianist to play on that old piano ever again," Herrick said. When the symphony began looking for a new instrument, it was Plano who tipped them off to the availability of the Fazioli. "He said, if you get this piano, you'll get high-quality performers."

Fazioli funding

With a decision made to get a new piano, Herrick said the symphony's original goal was to raise about $90,000 for a refurbished Steinway D grand piano, but once it set its sights on the Fazioli, the goal was set a little higher.

First, Hormel Foundation came up with $30,000. Then, in a matter of three months from the time the fundraising campaign kicked off, private donors in the community came up with a little more than $100,000 more.

In addition to buying the piano, the symphony needed to pay for an inspection of the instrument before buying it, a professional piano mover to bring it from Washington state to Austin High School, and a maintenance expert to clean it upon arrival. The high school also built a climate-controlled "garage" on the side of the stage to prevent any warping and help the piano stay tuned, Herrick said.

He said the new piano is actually about 15 years old, but its quality is evident in its craftsmanship and materials. The maker gets the wood for its soundboards from the same old-growth forest in northern Italy where Stradivarius got the wood for his violins. And the founder of the company added a fourth pedal designed to soften without losing tonal quality.

Playing is believing

Austin High School sophomore Andrew Keenan was eager to take his first turn at the Fazioli on Thursday.

His initial impression? "Off the bat, beautiful. Absolutely beautiful," he said as he played a few pieces from memory before settling into John Lennon's "Imagine."

Akkerman said the old piano, which had a cracked soundboard, sounded like something from a honky-tonk saloon compared to the Fazioli.

"It's an amazing opportunity for our students," said Austin Public Schools Superintendent David Krenz. "And for students around Southeast Minnesota with the MacPhail Center (for Music) being part of this."